The Scoop: Salem Cross Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, offers a romantic fine dining experience in a historic farmhouse about two hours outside of Boston. Couples can enjoy authentic jack-roasted prime rib, chowder, and apple pie and celebrate relationship milestones beside the fireplace. For its seasonal menu and events that bring couples together, Salem Cross Inn has earned our Editors’ Choice Award.
Nearly 70 years ago, Martha Salem-Leasca’s father stumbled upon an old farmhouse for sale about two hours outside of Boston in the quaint town of West Brookfield, Massachusetts. Today, that farmhouse is Salem Cross Inn, a charming and romantic fine dining restaurant — but that wasn’t its initial purpose.
It dates back to the 1700s and was passed down through seven generations. The home was well lived-in when Martha’s dad decided to buy it.
“He wanted to fix it up for his brother, who was getting married. He thought it would be a cool wedding gift,” Martha said. “They got in there and started working on things, and it turned out it was a rundown mess of a farmhouse.”
The brothers started stripping away all the layers of built-up paint and plaster to unveil original hand-planed boards and handmade nails. The bones, as they say, were exquisite. So they decided to restore the structure and make it into something beautiful.
In 1961, they opened Salem Cross Inn restaurant, and in 1975, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Couples who enjoy a meal, cocktail, or event at the restaurant can immerse themselves in the history of the 600-acre wooded property.
“This is an old, beautiful building, and it gives you a good feeling when you come in,” Martha said. “People always comment on the feeling, the smell of the place. It feels like they’re coming home.”
A Family Business That Prioritizes History and Good Food
When Martha’s father and uncle opened the restaurant, they didn’t know anything about the business, but they were eager to learn. Fortunately, a friend with a lot of experience pointed them in the right direction.
The farmhouse came with beautiful, large fireplaces — one so big you can walk into it. Martha’s father researched and discovered a tool from the 1700s called a roasting jack. It was what people used to roast meat by the fire.
“It took years to figure out how to use the thing. They experimented, with early meat being blackened on the outside and raw in the middle. They did a lot of reading and became experts on cooking with the roasting jacks,” Martha said. “We have the only known operating roasting jack in the whole country.”
Today, Martha and her sisters, Nancy and Heather, run the business. The sisters are three of seven children, who all grew up in the family restaurant.
“We’re a destination restaurant. People come from all over the world,” Martha said.
Some of the most popular dates happen in the fireplace seats as the weather gets chilly. Couples can celebrate their relationships while sitting by the stone-lined fireplaces, where chefs prepare prime rib with the roasting jack.
It’s also a communal experience. A team of chefs invites diners to help prepare the evening’s chowder or the apple pie for dessert. However, if guests prefer to converse in the corner while sipping on a hot glass of mulled wine or cider, that’s ideal for a memorable night, too.
Fresh, Local Produce, and Meats Create a Memorable Menu
Guests enjoy a farm-to-farm table experience at the Salem Cross Inn. The establishment raises its own beef right on property and grows the produce in its gardens during the warmer months.
“We even use the apples from the orchard down the street,” Martha said. “We offer lots of fresh and delicious foods. Everything is homemade, and we don’t use any prepackaged foods.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic affected local restaurants, the inn featured lunch and dinner menus, as well as one from its Hexmark Tavern. It recently combined all of its menus, so there’s something to please everyone any time of the day.
Guests drive through rolling pasturelands on their way to Salem Cross Inn. That open space naturally lends itself to social distancing, as does the inn’s large, natural garden area where it sets up dining during the warmer months. Even inside, the private tables make COVID-19 distance and health protocols easy to follow.
“We have 600 acres of land and hills with cows grazing in the fields. It’s really pretty,” Martha said. “We were lucky to have a beautiful area that people could enjoy and feel like they were getting away from everything.”
Along with the delicious menu and rustic ambiance, it’s the intimacy that makes the inn such a memorable date location. Sometimes, it can be difficult for couples to find a restaurant where they can have a quiet conversation about their relationship or life goals. At Salem Cross Inn, there’s no competing with another date or group of friends at a table that’s a little too close.
Salem Cross Inn: Great for Dates, Proposals, and Weddings
The Salem Cross Inn is popular with couples from all over, and its calendar is filled with special events. In the summer, it hosts farmers’ dinners in the barn attached to the restaurant. It offers cocktails and appetizers outside before inviting guests to sit around one large table inside the barn.
Martha said she hopes those family-style dinners will resume in 2021, but Salem Cross Inn can still host many smaller seasonal events. Its recent wreath-building workshop, accompanied by cocktails and dinner, was pared down from 50 to 20 people so participants could maintain social distance.
“We’ve seen people get married here, have christenings here. They go through their entire life cycle. People have even met here at one of our farmhouse dinners, and it turns into a relationship,” Martha said. “We’ve had people propose out on our wagon or sleigh rides. And they become part of the Salem Cross Inn family.”
One of the best events it offers is a memorable date night. Martha said that a meal that ends with a slice of perfectly baked apple pie is just part of the sweetness that happens on the farmhouse grounds.
Couples should make reservations, as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the business to make some changes.
“There’s a lot of charm, and the food is good. So, we’re trying to stay open,” she said. “Planning for the future is hard because we don’t know when we can do anything. Hopefully, we can do more this upcoming summer.”